An entire generation of women coming into adulthood now are largely unaware of the work of trailblazers like Gloria Steinem.
An American political activist, feminist and writer who started her fight against the patriarchy in the 1970s, Steinem has been active in helping create women’s political action groups, leading the conversation on women's rights.
With her new eight-part SBS VICELAND series Woman with Gloria Steinem, the activist is set to connect with a younger audience, with the show examining violence and other gender-based struggles that women still experience today. The field correspondents, whose own experiences vary, explore case studies in Africa, Asia, and North and South America. Not only do they highlight the misfortunes these victims go through, but they show the regional grassroots activism that allows women to improve their quality of life by collaborating and becoming organised on a local level.
Steinem says in the introduction to each episode of the series that “wealth and status is the safety of women”. It is a phrase that is uncomfortable to hear - this is the reality all women face. The series highlights the reality that if income, health, or education was taken away from a woman’s circumstances, her life would come spiraling down - purposefully made to feel helpless and dependent on men.
In episode 1, correspondent Alice Speri delves into the Colombian jungle to meet members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (it's Spanish acronym is FARC). One female member discusses how FARC was a way to “escape from poverty and a sexist culture by joining a group that treats you as an equal”. Her male counterpart explains, “Women play a crucial role as they are fighters who don’t lose their femininity.”
However, after delving into Colombia’s capital, Bogotá, and hearing from women who have gone through the ex-combatants rehabilitation program, we see that the promised equality is not the case. One woman discusses her observation that “men who go to war are seen as heroes in comparison to the distress of a woman who has picked up a gun” due to the stigma attached.
In episode 5, Speri visits El Savador and encounters the same stigma in a gang setting. Once a woman leaves a gang and refuses to be a soldier of the streets, she finds it difficult to gain income for various reasons, including dealing with PTSD, lack of education, or being unable to cope with her new surroundings. Dealing with intersectionality is unheard of, while some women find it difficult to stay out of trouble due not being able to receive a stable income because of racial and elitist bias.
These same racist and biased remarks heavily impede the lives of Canada's First Nations peoples, which can turn deadly at an alarming rate.
In episode 4, it is explained that First Nation Canadian women are four times more likely to disappear than the national average. The question is posed to correspondent Monica Dogra: “If we had 600 white women missing, wouldn’t we have an enquiry by now?”
One would think that in a country that seems progressive and modern like Canada, this type of question would need not be asked.
Episodes 6 and 7 highlight the problems facing Canadian neighbour, the United States. Here the series explores two very different scenarios - one of women incarcerated while pregnant, the other looking at assault in the military.
Some of the figures revealed across these episodes will have your jaw hit the floor: Currently 1 in 25 women who are incarcerated in US prisons have children while serving time. Within the military, it is reported that within one year, 20,000 women claimed to have been assaulted, with only a quarter of those women reporting the incidences. Within that group who did report the incident, 62 percent faced some sort of retaliation from peers – both male and female.
It is frustrating to watch how there would be equality between men and women in the eyes of the law, yet the embedded misogynistic enforcement of these laws, whether by police, superiors, judges, or politicians, betray the laws intent.
Women still struggle with achieving basic rights, largely a result of accessibility and the hyper masculine culture exerted upon women to keep the status quo. With shows like Women, the increasing number of stories of empowerment and justice remind us that change is coming from women themselves.
Woman with Gloria Steinem is complex series that will make you uncomfortable. It will leave you outraged.
Watch Woman with Gloria Steinem on Sunday March 8 at 1:30PM till 3PM and at 7:10PM on SBS VICELAND and SBS On Demand. The series is also streaming on SBS On Demand: